Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Public Disservice Message

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

A Public Disservice Message

Article excerpt

A plan to allow small fry onto the airwaves is thwarted by broadcaster interference.

THEY SAY POLITICS MAKES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. Apparently, radio waves have a similar effect. At the behest of an awkward alliance between National Public Radio and a powerful commercial broadcasters' lobby, Congress surreptitiously pulled the plug late last year on a Federal Communications Commission initiative that promised to open up the public airwaves to the actual public.

Last year, FCC chairman William Kennard began a process that would have provided broadcast licenses to hundreds of low-cost, low-power FM (LPFM) radio stations. Troubled by the ongoing corporate consolidation of American media, Kennard hoped to broaden the spectrum of political and cultural expression across the radio dial.

Watching the mergers and acquisitions in the media and Internet industries, one would be hard-pressed to disagree with Kennard. LPFM seemed like a modest and simple plan for maintaining at least some access for grassroots political and cultural expression as U.S. airwaves become increasingly dominated by the homogeneous, materialist message of commercial radio.

The LPFM initiative was greeted enthusiastically by church, labor, and community groups seeking new ways to reach their constituents and conduct advocacy and direct service work. More than 1,200 such groups are seeking licenses for an LPFM frequency.

Less happy about LPFM were some stingy frequency holders represented by the National Association of Broadcasters. NAB lobbyists joined forces with the up-to-now predictably politically correct folks at NPR and challenged the FCC plan, claiming that the new LPFM stations would cause interference with their current signals, perhaps even endangering listeners' access to such service-oriented programming as Howard Stern or the Annoying Music Show.

The FCC found no technical merit to the complaint, but these powerful broadcasters haven't achieved their near-complete control of the radio spectrum by giving up that easily. The NAB and NPR junta turned the volume up on their congressional connections in Washington.

Their efforts were rewarded. Hidden away in the 2001 budget is a rider carrying the suitably Orwellian handle "Radio Broadcasting Preservation Act. …

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